Update: On Monday, Heidi Cruz was asked about the mostly joking rumors that her husband was the Zodiac Killer, including some jokes Larry Wilmore told at Saturday's White House Correspondents Dinner. While her response was not terribly conclusive, we did the legwork earlier this year to prove that he wasn't. The post is from February.
The Internet likes to make jokes. For all of the countless millions of dollars invested by the government, businesses and individuals the world over, one of the main things for which a decent percentage of people use the World Wide Web is to make fun of other people. We've untapped the power of an interconnected world, and this is what we've attained.
People in positions of prominence and authority are more likely to become the target of such jokes, and so it is that Ted Cruz, junior senator from Texas and junior candidate for the Republican nomination for the presidency, has become the target of a particularly esoteric one. But it is just a joke, and so we will dispatch with it curtly:
No, Ted Cruz is not the Zodiac killer.
Those of you who lived in the Bay Area of California 40 years ago and/or who saw the 2007 movie "Zodiac" are familiar with the broad strokes of the story. A series of killings-- perhaps ultimately as many as three dozen -- after which the killer sent letters to California papers including a coded message. (It was the killer who identified himself as "Zodiac.")
The messages were coded with symbols, forming what's called a "cipher." A cipher is something like this:
dtz itsy sjji yt yjqq rj ymfy ymnx fwynhqj bfx f izrg bfxyj tk ynrj fx n fr fbfwj
These notes, coded and uncoded, went on for years. The killer was never identified.
So how did this come back to Cruz? Because jokes. I already explained that.
The Daily Dot, which is to Internet jokes what The Washington Post is to Capitol Hill, traced the origin of the Ted-Cruz-is-the-Zodiac-Killer meme back to 2013. Specifically, here:
#CPAC Alert: Ted Cruz is speaking!! His speech is titled: 'This Is The Zodiac Speaking'
— Red Pill America (@RedPillAmerica) March 14, 2013
As Cruz has gained national attention, so, too, has the joke. There's a hashtag, naturally, filled with insights such as:
Public Policy Polling, a left-leaning polling firm that has made a name for itself by tacking amusing questions onto the end of its surveys, apparently was persuaded to include a question about Cruz being the Zodiac Killer in a new poll in Florida.
We are finding many Floridians can not rule out the possibility, although few are convinced of guilt https://t.co/OPsWIl97Sy
— PublicPolicyPolling (@ppppolls) February 25, 2016
Some small consolation for the senator, I suppose.
Update: The full poll is out. "38% of Florida voters think it's possible that Ted Cruz is the Zodiac Killer," PPP's Tom Jensen writes. "10% say he for sure is, and another 28% say that they are just not sure. Cruz is exonerated from being a toddler serial killer by 62% of the Sunshine State populace."
Because the other prominent feature of the Internet, after the joke-making, is that a lot of people will not get the joke and will take it seriously -- helping to make "Snopes" a household name -- we figured we may as well dispatch with this rumor.
1) Cruz is too young
I find it suspicious that no records of Ted Cruz's whereabouts or activities exist for the time that the Zodiac Killer was active
— Zach Wilson (@covernode) September 17, 2015
The first confirmed Zodiac killing occurred in December 1968, though killings as early as 1963 may have been committed by the same perpetrator. In 1968, Ted Cruz was negative-2 years old, according to the birth certificate he released in 2013.
(It is not the case, as one tweet suggests, that the Calgary-born Cruz's first victims were named Cal and Gary.)
Zodiac stopped killing by 1970 at the latest, when Cruz would have been only a few years old. A young child cannot kill an adult intentionally, or assume the physical appearance of an adult without some sort of hyper-realistic exoskeleton of the sort that doesn't seem to exist.
All of this is assuming that Cruz's birth certificate is real. Donald Trump hasn't questioned it, so we can assume that it is.
2) Cruz lived in Canada, not California
Even if Cruz had figured out how to commit murder at the age of 1, there's no evidence that his family visited California. As a young child, he would have had to have adult accompaniment to fly, and he was clearly too small to drive himself. This is a non-trivial challenge if the idea is that he needed to travel the 1,000 miles between Calgary and San Francisco.
It was also much too far to walk.
3) Cruz probably couldn't read or write as a 2-year-old, much less develop complicated codes
He's smart, but it seems unlikely that he could develop a three-part cipher and send it to various California newspapers before he was potty-trained.
4) The Zodiac Killer used a handgun; Cruz prefers shotguns and rifles
There's not much else to add. As a reporter for The Washington Post, I would have loved to break the story confirming that Cruz is a notorious serial killer. The evidence, however, suggests the contrary.